Maine’s pleasantly quiet race for governor

Here’s a fun fact. I live in Maine’s First Congressional District, yet I have not seen a single television ad for the campaigns of Chellie Pingree, Marty Grohman, or Mark Holbrook, the three aspirants to the southern Maine congressional seat.

In contrast, I have seen what I can only assume is several thousand ads for Jared Golden and Bruce Poliquin, who are of course running in Maine’s Second Congressional District.

Somewhere in between has been the race to be Maine’s next governor.

From left, Alan Caron, Terry Hayes, Janet Mills and Shawn Moody, Maine’s candidates for governor. BDN composite

It is true, I’ve seen a couple of these ads. Shawn Moody is a self-made man, Janet Mills is still driving somewhere and might be in Canada by now, and Terry Hayes spills a lot of coffee on herself and hates the internet.

Indeed, Hayes’ last ad closes with a confused, almost desperate appeal for connection to you, the voter. “Hello?” she asks, “Are you there?”

It seems all candidates for governor are currently asking that question, and I’m not sure anyone is answering.

Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean that as a criticism toward any of the four of them. People should be paying attention, and despite my hyperbole here, they are indeed crisscrossing the state and making their case.

But it seems no one is really talking about this race, for some reason.

Walk up to any Maine politico right now, and ask them what is on their mind. Without fail, you will undoubtedly be forced to listen to a hot take about the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, Donald Trump, or maybe if they want to get local, they might weigh in on Golden’s tattoos.

Perhaps, if you eventually hang around long enough, you might get them to weigh in on the gubernatorial contest. But when they do, you are treated to a host of milquetoast responses about what they think of it.

“Oh, I don’t know,” some begin. “I think Shawn is winning, but this is a bad year for Republicans, so who knows, really?”

“Janet’s running a good campaign,” say others, “but I don’t know … Shawn is a good candidate and will be tough to beat.”

“I heard Alan Caron went to jail a long time ago,” muse others, “but I don’t know anything else about him.”

“Terry Hayes is a really nice person,” say some, “but can she really win?”

You will note the absence of impassioned, highly partisan remarks. You will note the general bewilderment at the prospect of handicapping the race. You will note the complete lack of scandals or controversial incidents cited by people.

That is no mistake, because — at least so far — this has been a very sleepy gubernatorial contest.

There have certainly been negative attack ads, such as the aforementioned (and indisputably ridiculous) ad attacking Moody. There have been debates. There have been positive commercials focusing on personality.

But, that’s about it.

Perhaps we have all just gotten used to Paul LePage’s brand of pugnacious politics, and the type of race it produced. LePage was always interesting and never dull, whether you loved him or you hated him. The race to replace him has, by its very definition, not included him and thus the entire race’s temperature has gone down.

Still, even by pre-LePage standards, this has been a quiet contest. So what gives?

I’m not sure I have a good answer. Interestingly, though, each of the four candidates running actually seems to be a genuinely nice person.

You laugh, but don’t sell that point short. I’ve spent time to varying degrees with all four, and each is generally thoughtful, pleasant, and interested in talking to you about their own ideas, and avoids cheap political attacks.

Indeed, most of them — particularly Moody and Hayes — seem to have a particular aversion to saying bad things about other people, including the people they’re running against. I’ve talked to both at length, and even off-the-record questions to them that are meant to simply get a sense of their opinion of their competitors produced nothing negative.

That, I think, is not only a good thing but is pretty refreshing.

Politics will never be entirely cleaned up, of course, and even the nicest of people end up sanctioning a fair amount of negativity. Outside groups will, no doubt, attack in the coming weeks while the candidates stay out of the scrum.

But, speaking as one politically and emotionally exhausted guy who is more than a little burned out on the never ending outrage and vitriol, I am happy to see a somewhat boring, quiet campaign. If only it was the rule, rather than the exception.


Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.